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Bicycling in Amsterdam
Join the "Rack Pack"
Stand at any intersection in any Dutch city and you're guaranteed to see bicycles. Getting around on two wheels has long made sense for Lowlanders. They're proud of their rep as frugal, efficient, sporty, and eco-conscious—qualities all embodied in and on a bike. That their country is flat and that petrol and parking are dear commodities also make the fiets a no-brainer.
Where does that leave you, footloose holidaymaker? It depends. Experienced cyclists will glide around Amsterdam, feeling they've died and gone to... Portland, Oregon. After all, bike lanes abound, motorists yield to cyclists, and trams are vigilant of the little guys who pedal. This just might be the place where you can satisfy that need for speed. Visitors with little to no metropolitan biking background, however, might think twice.
Steady Wins the Race
Getting stuck behind a swerving slowpoke can create problems: some speedy Amsterdammers lose their cool and forget their regular traffic obedience. If you're mounting a bike to help nurture that inner child who misses the joys of a banana seat, it might be best to work through that desire in a residential neighborhood, a park, or smaller town. But if you feel you're enough of a biking pro and want to go native, join the rest of the bike snobs who make up downtown Amsterdam's "rack pack." Slow? Fast? Actually, everyone knows that when it comes to city biking, steady wins the race. At any speed, you'll quickly realize that cycling in Amsterdam is, foremost, a means to easy mobility.
Renting Your Ride
Getting a bike in Amsterdam is even easier than getting on one. Tourist-friendly rental shops dot the city center. Walk in, have the shopkeeper size you, hand over a bit of collateral (usually a credit card or your passport plus €50), and you're ready to roll.
Although small shops are popping up, citywide chains MacBike and Yellow Bike have dominated the market for decades. Both are obvious choices for guided group tours within Amsterdam or its surrounds. A must-mention drawback is that both have prominent logos and crazy-bright-colored frames (Mac's in Betty Boop red, Yellow Bike's in... you guessed it), so everyone on the road will know you're an out-of-towner. Then again, riding around in what is essentially the equivalent of a Student Driver car might be prudent if you're a newbie. Approaching road-racers will know to exercise caution, though may also exercise their bell-ringing behind you. Prefer to go more incog? Rent from the all-around excellent chain Het Zwarte Fietsenplan. Staff are exceptionally amicable. And—should careening canal-side prove so delightful that you stay a while—new and secondhand bikes are sold here, too.
Het Zwarte Fietsenplan Centrum (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 146, Amsterdam, North Holland. 020/670-8531. Eerste Constantijn Huygensstraat 88. 020/412-1440.
Beethovenstraat 86. 020/670-8531.
Lijnbaansgracht 282, 1017RM. 020/670-8531. www.hetzwartefietsenplan.nl. Mon.-Fri. 8-8, weekends 10-6.).
MacBike Centraal Station Oost (Stationsplein 5, Amsterdam, North Holland, 1012AB. 020/624-8391. macbike.nl. Daily 9-5:45. Weteringschans 2, 1017SG. 020/528-7688.).
Yellow Bike Nieuwezijds Kolk (Marnixstraat 220, Amsterdam, North Holland, 1012PV. 020/620-6940. www.yellowbike.nl. Sun.-Mon. 9:30-5 (later hours in the summer). Oudezijds Armsteeg 22, 1012PG.).
Look, Dad! No Hands!
Kids from 7 months to 45 pounds can sit on a child's seat; those 6 and up might consider joining their keepers on a tandem bike.
What to Wear
Although the Dutch are notoriously underdressed, what they—notably of the fairer sex—pull off wearing and bearing while cycling is impressive. Don't be surprised to see stilettos, panty-flashing mini-skirts, full-on flowing Goth regalia, with dogs in handlebar baskets, sundroffspring straddled on child seats, plus an umbrella, iPhone, and/or dinner party-bound bouquet of flowers in hand or underarm. Let comfort guide your own cycling wardrobe choices, though note some pointers.
Basic rental bikes have back-pedal foot brakes, not hand brakes. Shoes with no heels whatsoever (canvas sneakers and ballerina flats, for instance) make it dangerously easy for your foot to slide off the pedal and lose control of your stop reflex.
Nothing like a pair of drawstring palazzos to get into that no-counting-calories vacation mode, right? And nothing like billowy pants cuffs to get caught in your bicycle chain! Ditto on sweats, flowing skirts, and dresses.
Chances are you will be precipitated on in the Netherlands. A fine idea is thus to pack water-resistant wear. Forgot it? Durable, affordable raingear can be bought at any branch of HEMA, the Dutch equivalent of Target.
Road Rules: Do
Hand-signal: extend right arm before turning right; vice-versa for left. Ride in all available bike lanes (not amidst auto traffic or on sidewalks). Beware of parked cars with doors swinging open. Use bike lights in the dark; otherwise, face a ticket. Lock your two-wheeler to something fixed; a bike rack is best.
Road Rules: Don't
Call, text, chat, or surf while cycling. Blow a red light; otherwise, face a ticket. Stop suddenly mid-bike lane. Ring your bell unless an audible being dangerously obstructs your path. Cycle if you're chemically impaired.
Worry not. If you need to get to another section of the city or another town altogether—but don't want to pedal all the way there and back—there are options.
To Bring a Bike on the Amsterdam Metro:
Buy a supplementary €1.60 fietskaartje (bike ticket), enter the car with the blue circular bike logo, and look for the special hooks to which you affix your front wheel. If all designated spots are taken (not unlikely on a rainy day), stay in the same car, doing your best to stand with your bike. For more information, consult Amsterdam's transport authority (0900/8011 en.gvb.nl).
To Bring a Bike on a National Dutch Train:
Buy a €6 dagkaart fiets (bike day card) and—so long as it's during off-peak hours (weekdays 7:30 pm-6:30 am and 9 am-4 pm and weekends)—hop on.
Or Not to Bring a Bike:
If glutes are groggy by the time you get to the train station, store your bike. You'll never need to look far for a rack to lock your bike cost-free. Larger stations offer a €5 daily locker service.
For more information, consult the Dutch railroad (0900/9292 www.ns.nl/en).
Life is Hard, Roads Too!
No laws require bicyclists in the Netherlands to wear helmets. Should you seek one for yourself or your child, simply inquire at a rental shop. Yes, you will stick out, but peace of mind feels nicer than a concussion.
Waterland-Ho!: A Great Bike Trip
If you're jonesin' for green, consider a bike ride in the nearby country. A mere five-minute sail from Centraal Station, Amsterdam Noord offers inhabitants—and visitors—quieter and roomier ways of the road with plenty of tree-lined waterways to keep the Zen in motion.
If you like your nature interspersed with a bit of folkloric kitsch, check out any or all of the 10 villages forming the region known as Waterland.
The former fishing communities graciously cater to tourists, with easy-to-navigate cycling paths.
Within a matter of meters, you can zoom—or laze—past polders and windmills, small wooden houses, and draw bridges, churches, and cafés.
A good point to begin your northern exposure is Buiksloterweg, which you can reach by the same-named ferry crossing the IJ every 12 minutes.
Best City Bike Trails
The Dutch touch is behind most nature in the Netherlands: along with their damming, sluicing, and poldering skills, turns out they're talented landscapers, too.
Amsterdam's man-made parks are oxygen-emitting testament to this, making for some very pleasant cycling. While locals frequent Vondelpark, Oosterpark, and Westerpark for jogs and picnics, a biker's best bet is the Amsterdamse Bos. The 80-year-old forest, also man-made, has 50 km (31 miles) of cycling paths that snake through Amsterdam's southern Buitenveldert neighborhood and the nearby suburb of Amstelveen.
Besides rentals, Fietsverhuur Amsterdamse Bos offers tips on navigating within the woods as well as routes to the city center and, if you ever wanted to ride along a plane runway, neighboring Schiphol Airport.
Planning Your Own Bike Trip
Map your trip in advance by consulting the Amsterdam Tourist Office (www.vvvfietsrouteplanner.nl) or visiting a route-planning website such as that of the Dutch Cyclist Union.
Their online service (www.fietsersbond.nl/fietsrouteplanner) not only maps out the most efficient way to pedal, but specifies how many calories a ride burns and how much CO2 is saved by taking two wheels instead of four.
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